Water Safety Tips

Safety at Dams and Reservoirs

Designed for hydropower production and recreation, reservoirs offer wonderful opportunities to camp, picnic, boat, fish and hike. It is important to note, however, that there are areas around reservoirs where extra precautions should be taken:
  • Stay out of spillways and water-intake areas. Water sometimes rushes in, making them dangerous places to play.
  • Don’t swim or play near the dam and powerhouse; the area can have strong underwater currents, sudden water discharges, slippery surfaces and submerged hazards.
  • Always obey all warning signs and restrictive buoys. They are intended to keep recreationists away from areas where water activity can change suddenly, posing a risk of injury or death.

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Safety on Rivers, Streams and Other Waterways

Many of Northern California's waterways are part of the vast hydropower system, with dams located both upstream and downstream of the most popular recreation areas. During certain times of the year, sudden changes to water levels and river flows are more common. Heavy rains, melting snow or the running of electric generators can change a waterway from a slow stream to a raging river in a matter of minutes. Here are some tips for protecting yourself and your family:
  • Always be alert and aware of your surroundings. Dams can be completely out of sight, but still affect the water in surprising ways.
  • Look for water level changes, even those affected by rain and melting snow.
  • Be aware of your location near or across the stream from powerhouses.
  • Remember that some roads and trails may not be accessible after a release since they can be temporarily flooded by the extra water.
  • Learn the meanings of powerhouse warning signs, strobe lights and sirens, and move to a safe area if you see or hear a warning.

Safety near Canals, Flumes and Penstocks

Canals, flumes and penstocks are used to move water from one part of the hydropower system to another. Canals and flumes may look inviting, but they can be very dangerous since the amount of water in them can increase quickly.
  • Never get in a flume or canal. The water may appear calm but it is extremely powerful.
  • Stay off of flumes. Flumes have steep, slippery sides and icy cold water. Once in a canal or flume, it can be very difficult to get out.
  • Obey all warning signs and never play on or near a canal or flume.
  • If you drop a personal article in a canal or flume, leave it. It is not worth the risk of injury or death.

Safety When Boating

When boating on a reservoir, be sure to comply with all laws and requirements.
  • Plan ahead and be prepared for changes in the weather.
  • File a float plan—a written statement with the details of your trip—before you go boating. Leave it with a reliable person who can be depended upon to notify the Coast Guard if you don’t return on schedule.
  • Never operate a boat while intoxicated.
  • Know your skill level.

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What to Do in the Event of an Emergency

When you’re near a body of water that is part of a hydropower system, it is important to know the signs of an emergency. While PG&E’s dams are very safe, an emergency is always possible.

Warning Signs
  • Intensified sound of rushing water.
  • Increased water speed or depth.
  • Unusual amounts of debris in the water.
  • Change in water from clear to muddy.
  • Unusually cold water temperatures.
What to Do if You’re in the Water
  • Drop any items that could weigh you down.
  • Stay calm and lie on your back.
  • Keep your feet up and pointed downstream to avoid hitting rocks and to prevent your feet from getting tangled.
  • Go with the current and move diagonally across it until you reach shore.
  • Roll onto dry land to drain your boots or waders.
What to Do if You’re Near the Water
  • Head for higher ground.
  • Turn on your weather radio to access the National Weather Service’s Emergency Alert System.
  • Do not walk through moving water.
  • Avoid driving through flooded areas.
  • Follow your family’s evacuation plan, which you've made ahead of time.

General Water Safety

Whenever visiting a reservoir, river or other body of water, follow these guidelines:
  • Obey all warning signs and restrictive buoys while swimming or boating.
  • Use the Buddy System. Never fish, swim, boat or raft alone.
  • Don’t dive or jump into unfamiliar water. Shallow water or submerged trees or rocks could cause serious injury.
  • Wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket in and around water at all times, even if water levels are low.
  • Use caution. Sudden immersion in cold water can stimulate the gasp reflex, causing an involuntary inhalation of air or water. It can even trigger cardiac arrest, temporary paralysis, hypothermia and drowning.
  • Teach children that swimming in open water is not the same as in a pool. They need to be aware of uneven surfaces, currents and undertow, as well as signs of changing weather.
  • Actively supervise children around water, giving them your undivided attention.
  • Comply with all warning signs at campgrounds, fishing areas and picnic areas below dams.
  • Make a plan with your family so everyone knows to get out of the water at a moment's notice.

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